A booming bloom
Who knew an odd-looking flower would be one of the top draws at the Zoo this summer.
There’s always a reason to visit the Zoo in the summer. From new Zoo babies to after-hours events, each visit can offer something new to enjoy. But who knew that an odd-looking (and stinky) flower would be one of the top draws this year.
Blooming for only the fourth time in its life this summer was the Zoo’s fascinating Titan arum, otherwise known as the corpse flower. Named Cronus, this flower drew people to the Zoo from all over the Cleveland area, all anxious to witness something so unique.
The titan arum is the largest flowering structure on earth, and typically only blooms every three to six years. “You can’t really predict when it will flower,” says Leigh Anne Lomax, Manager of Zoo Horticulture and Facilities at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, “You just have to watch every time a node emerges to see if it will be a leaf or a flower.”
As the corpse flower grows and emerges from the soil, it produces a node that grows upward. Most of the time the node will only produce a leaf structure that will eventually fall off and start the process all over again. Every once in a while, a node will emerge that will produce a flower.
“We can usually tell if it will flower by the shape of the node, but before that, there is no way to predict,” says Lomax. As Cronus moves through its life cycle, it is kept in the Zoo’s upper greenhouse, where the horticulture team provides water and light fertilizer to the low maintenance plant.
“When we knew that it would flower, we moved it down to The RainForest for guests to see,” says Lomax.
Once Cronus was moved to The RainForest, Lomax and her team began to monitor it even more closely. A livestream of the flower was set up, and measurements were taken multiple times a day. As its growth rate sped up, Cronus was growing three to four inches every day. Check out the full timelapse of its bloom below!
“We were actually looking for him to slow down in his growth because that’s when we knew he was getting close to opening,” says Lomax. Her team continued to watch Cronus with a close eye. When the flower began to produce heat signatures measured by a thermal imaging gun, and the edges started to turn a dark purple, they knew it could bloom at any moment.
On August 6 around 1 p.m., Lomax received the call that Cronus was starting to open and excitement ensued all across the Zoo.
“What’s interesting is that the flower never stops moving, it slowly opens and then slowly closes over the 24 to 48-hour period,” says Lomax.
Cronus’ stench permeated the lower level of The RainForest as guests and staff gathered to see the flower. In the wild, the stench is created to draw flies and insects to the plant so the flowers at the base can be pollenated.
The next day, the Zoo saw an incredible response to the blooming of Cronus. People from all over came to see this incredible flower. TV stations from throughout Cleveland included the flower in their broadcasts, and photos flooded the Zoo’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. For most of the day, the line to get into The RainForest was almost two hours long. The RainForest even stayed open later in order to accommodate as many guests as possible.
When asked about the attention created from the flower, Leigh Anne wasn’t too surprised by the amount of people who waited to see the flower. “Its short time frame, the smell and the inability to predict when it will bloom is what makes it such an exciting flower for people to see,” says Lomax.
After the excitement ended and the flower was fully closed up, the horticulture team returned Cronus to the upper greenhouse to start the cycle over once again.
“This was the first time I was able to witness a corpse flower bloom and I’m already looking forward to the next time he blooms,” says Lomax.
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